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The Ultimate Guide to Applying to Notre Dame

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Who doesn’t love college football? The University of Notre Dame is a household name among football fans for its highly successful Fighting Irish varsity football team. However, it would do Notre Dame a great disservice to assume that the university is all about sports. In fact, Notre Dame has a high-achieving student body, a competitive admissions process, hundreds of non-sports-related student groups, and a reputation for academic rigor in its undergraduate programs.


Among other achievements, Notre Dame’s undergraduate business program has frequently been ranked as the best in the country. The university’s Catholic heritage is displayed with pride and deeply woven into the school’s mission, creating a unique on-campus culture. The over 120,000 Notre Dame alumni around the world, who are widely known for their fierce loyalty to their school, have created a vast and useful network that Notre Dame students can utilize.


Football fan or not, if you’re looking for a challenging undergraduate program with the resources of a large research university to back it up, you’d be wise to take a closer look at Notre Dame. Read on for more information about Notre Dame’s undergraduate programs, its application requirements, and what to expect from the admissions process.


Want to learn what University of Notre Dame will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering University of Notre Dame needs to know.


Introducing Notre Dame


Founded in 1842, the private research university formally known as the University of Notre Dame du Lac, generally referred to simply as Notre Dame, is located in the suburban setting of South Bend, Indiana, about 100 miles away from Chicago. The campus covers a total of about 1,250 acres. Notre Dame is widely recognized for its academic excellence, both in general and in particular programs. Its graduation rate for undergraduates is an impressive 95%, topped only by Harvard and Princeton in the United States.


According to the U.S. News and World Report college ranking system, Notre Dame is tied for the rank of 15th in the National Universities category. This ranking system also gives the university high marks for its undergraduate teaching quality, its friendliness to veterans, and the value it provides for its cost. In other publications, the undergraduate business program is particularly highly rated; it is currently ranked number 2 in the nation by Bloomberg Businessweek, but has been ranked number 1 frequently in recent years.


Currently, Notre Dame is home to 12,292 students in total, 8,462 of whom are undergraduates. All students spend their first year in the First Year of Studies program, which involves a number of required courses and distribution requirements, and which is designed to provide guidance to beginning students so that they can choose a major by their sophomore year.


After their first year, students join one of the five undergraduate colleges within Notre Dame. These are the College of Arts and Letters, the College of Science, the School of Architecture, the College of Engineering, and the Mendoza College of Business. Because of this setup, all applicants to Notre Dame go through the same admissions process prior to matriculating, regardless of which subject(s) they would like to study. (We’ll go over this process in greater detail below.) Undergraduate interest in the School of Architecture is the lowest, comprising only 3% of the class entering in 2015, but interest among first-year students is evenly split among the other four colleges.


Across the five undergraduate colleges, Notre Dame students can choose among around 75 different majors. Finance is the most popular option, followed by accounting, economics, political science, and psychology. Academic minor programs are also available. In addition, over half of Notre Dame students choose to enrich their educational experiences by studying abroad.


Notre Dame’s religious affiliation with the Roman Catholic Church is an important factor in understanding what it’s like to be a student at Notre Dame. The university was founded by Father Edward Sorin, a member of the group of priests known as the Congregation of the Holy Cross, and Holy Cross priests remain highly involved with the running of the university. Its name also reflects its Catholic heritage—“Notre Dame du Lac” translates to “Our Lady of the Lake,” commemorating the Virgin Mary as the university’s patron saint.


Admission to Notre Dame is open to students of all religious faiths, and a variety of faith groups exist on campus, including Muslim, Mormon, and Jewish student groups. By the numbers, 80% of students at Notre Dame identify as Catholic, and 42% of students come from Catholic high schools, so being a practicing Catholic is clearly not required for admission. According to Notre Dame’s website, the school values this diversity for its capacity to represent the varied nature of humanity and its tendency to enliven intellectual activity by including different perspectives.


However, prospective applicants should be aware that the university’s Catholic heritage does inform the mission and the culture of the school. Nuns and priests are commonly encountered on campus, a crucifix is displayed in each classroom, and the campus is home to 57 different chapels where Catholic Mass is celebrated over a hundred times each week. As we’ll go over later when we discuss Notre Dame’s application, the university does ask prospective students to specify the religious tradition in which they were raised.


Of course, Notre Dame is also a school that takes football seriously. Many campus traditions have evolved around football game days, from marching band concerts to decorating the campus. The varsity men’s basketball team and other athletic teams at Notre Dame have also become quite successful, and the campus culture celebrates athletics to a great degree.


Aside from athletics, students at Notre Dame participate in an impressive list of over 400 different groups and organizations, including performing arts groups, academic interest groups, and some organizations that are just for fun. In keeping with Notre Dame’s Catholic culture, community service is particularly popular, and the university works with over 60 local agencies in and around South Bend to connect interested students with areas in which they can be helpful.


Notre Dame Admissions Information


The admissions process at Notre Dame is quite competitive overall. For the class of 2020, Notre Dame received 19,505 undergraduate applications and accepted 3,655 applicants, making its overall acceptance rate 18.7%. 2,048 of these accepted applicants matriculated at Notre Dame in the fall of 2016.


All applicants to Notre Dame go through the same application process, regardless of which college within Notre Dame they plan to attend. When you apply to Notre Dame, you’ll be asked to state your area of academic interest, but this selection is not binding, and the academic advising you’ll receive during your first year will help guide you toward your eventual choice of major.


However, there are restrictions to keep in mind, particularly if you are interested in the popular undergraduate business program, in which space is limited. If you know you’re interested in a major within the College of Business, you’ll need to specify this interest in the appropriate spot on your application, which we’ll go over below. If you do this when you apply, you’ll be notified of whether you’ve been “preapproved” to enter the business program with your admissions decision. Opportunities to enter the College of Business are extremely limited for students who are not preapproved.


Notre Dame does accept applications from transfer applicants who have completed at least one year at another college or university. Accepted transfer students can enroll either in the fall semester or in the spring semester. Unlike many schools, Notre Dame has separate admissions goals for first-year and transfer students, so the number of transfer slots available does not depend upon the number of first-year applicants who end up enrolling at the university.


According to the Notre Dame website, the university typically receives about 800 transfer applications for the fall semester, and is able to admit around 150 applicants, making the fall transfer acceptance rate about 18.8% — roughly the same as for first-year applicants. For the spring semester, Notre Dame receives about 100 transfer applications and accepts 5 to 10 students, for a substantially lower acceptance rate of 5-10%.


Paying for Notre Dame


Notre Dame’s estimated cost of attendance for the 2016-2017 school year is $67,043, with tuition alone costing $49,685 for the year. This figure includes estimates for room and board, books and supplies, personal expenses, and costs of transportation to and from South Bend, but all of these figures may vary for individual students. 76% of undergraduate students receive some kind of financial aid to assist with the costs of their Notre Dame education.


If you’re a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident, your admissions decision will be made on a need-blind basis, meaning that your financial need and ability to pay for college will not be considered as part of your admissions application. Notre Dame’s policy is to meet 100% of each admitted student’s demonstrated financial need, as assessed by his or her financial aid application materials. In addition to need-based aid, a number of merit-based scholarships are available.


For international applicants to Notre Dame, the admissions process is need-aware, meaning that your ability to pay for college may affect your eventual admissions decision. However, international students who are accepted and have applied for financial aid by the requisite deadlines still fall under Notre Dame’s commitment to meeting 100% of student financial need. International students also have several merit scholarship opportunities.


International applicants who may need financial aid at Notre Dame are required to apply for it along with their admissions applications; no financial aid applications will be accepted from international students after that date. In short, Notre Dame does have financial aid available for international students, but will only admit as many international students with financial need as it can fit into its existing limited budget.


Need-Based Financial Aid


For all first-year domestic applicants, whether they are applying on the Restrictive Early Action timeline or the Regular Decision timeline, the priority deadline for initially applying for need-based financial aid is February 15th. (We’ll go over what those timelines mean below.)


All domestic applicants should submit the FAFSA and the CSS Profile by this priority deadline. By March 1st, these applicants must also submit their families’ tax returns and W-2 forms to Notre Dame through the IDOC service.


For international applicants, applying for need-based financial aid involves submitting the university’s International Student Certification of Finances along with the CSS Profile by the admissions application due date. If you’re an international applicant, you can learn more about these documents here.


Transfer applicants from the United States applying for admission in the fall or spring semester should submit their financial aid applications by March 31st or November 15th, respectively, and their tax documents by April 30th or November 30th. These applicants will have the same access to need-based financial aid as first-year domestic students. Unfortunately, no financial aid funding is currently available from Notre Dame for international transfer students.


Merit-Based Scholarships


In addition to need-based financial aid, Notre Dame offers a number of merit-based scholarships to certain students who demonstrate an exceptional level of promise. These students often receive not only financial help with college costs, but also exclusive perks such as “leadership development and enrichment opportunities.” Both domestic and international applicants who are applying as first-year students have access to merit scholarship opportunities.


For most merit scholarship programs at Notre Dame, no additional application is required in order to be considered, and scholarships will be awarded on the basis of the information already present in your admissions application. However, if you’re under consideration for a merit scholarship, you may be contacted directly and asked to provide specific additional information.


Prospective applicants can learn more about Notre Dame’s merit scholarship programs here. Note that students may be considered for both need-based financial aid and merit-based scholarships, but receiving a merit scholarship may reduce a student’s eligibility for need-based financial aid.


The Notre Dame Application


If you’re applying to Notre Dame, you’ll need to submit either the Common Application or the Coalition Application. Notre Dame doesn’t have a preference for either application format, so you can choose whichever application system works best for you. Both applications will ask for much of the same information, and the supplemental Notre Dame essay questions for each application will be the same.


No matter which application form you choose, you’ll have two options for your application timeline: Restrictive Early Action (REA) and Regular Decision (RD). REA applicants submit their applications by November 1st and typically hear back about their admissions decisions in mid-December. RD applicants submit their applications by January 1st and hear back by early April.


Notre Dame’s REA option is not binding. This means that if you’re accepted to Notre Dame early, you’re not contractually obligated to attend, and you can still compare offers from different colleges up until the May 1st response deadline. However, the REA option is still single-choice, meaning that if you apply to Notre Dame early, you are not permitted to apply to binding Early Decision programs at any other schools.


When you fill out your application to Notre Dame, you’ll need to specify which undergraduate program at the university you intend to enroll in after your first year. As we mentioned above, this is especially important if you’re potentially interested in joining the undergraduate business program, since space in that program is limited. However, the choice you make here is not binding, and it’s usually possible for you to end up in a field that isn’t what you initially applied for.


In addition to first-year applicants, Notre Dame accepts applications from transfer applicants, who can enter in either the fall semester or the spring semester. Prospective transfers should be aware that the availability of certain majors, especially within the business program, may be limited or nonexistent. Transfer applicants will need to complete the Common Application with supporting documents from both their high school and their original college.


For transfer applicants who intend to enter in the fall semester, applications are due by March 15th, and admissions decisions are generally released in June. For transfer applicants who intend to enter in the spring semester, applications are due by October 1st, and admissions decisions are released between December 15th and January 1st. If you’re interested in transferring to Notre Dame, you can learn more about the requirements of the process here.


Now that we’ve introduced you to the Notre Dame application procedure, we’ll go over the school-specific questions that Notre Dame will expect you to answer.


Common Application


If you choose to use the Common App to apply to Notre Dame, you’ll first need to create a Common App account and answer the questions that the Common App asks of all users. For assistance with filling out the main body of the Common App, check out the CollegeVine User’s Guide to the Common App, as well as our targeted posts regarding how to fill out the sections on your demographics, citizenship, academics, activities, awards, and more.


In addition to the standard Common App questions, you’ll need to answer questions that are specific to Notre Dame. To access these questions, you’ll first need to add Notre Dame to your My Colleges list. Once you’ve done so, navigate to your My Colleges page and click on Notre Dame. You’ll see the following page:




On the left, under the Notre Dame tab and the heading that says Application, click on the word Questions. You’ll see the following:




These supplemental questions are grouped into six sections: General, Academics, Activities, Contacts, Family, and Acknowledgements. Click on the section headers to access the questions in each section, or click Continue to move on to the next section. We’ll go over the questions that you’ll find in each section and offer some advice on how to answer them.


For the General section, you’ll answer the following questions:




  • Preferred start term: Select Fall 2017 from the drop-down menu.
  • Preferred admission plan: Select Restrictive Early Action or Regular Decision.
  • If you intend to pursue a first or second major in the Department of Art, Department of Design, or the School of Architecture, applicants are welcome to submit talent samples via a creative portfolio. Additionally, the Department of Music invites any applicant regardless of intended major to submit talent samples. Do you intend to submit a creative portfolio?: Select Yes or No. If you select Yes, an option for submitting your portfolio will appear. If you’re not in one of the specified fields, you should take a look at our CollegeVine blog post on whether to submit an arts supplement first in order to figure out whether this is a good idea for you.
  • In what religious tradition were you raised?: Select the option from the drop-down menu that best matches your upbringing. If you were not raised in a religion, you can select None.
  • If you are Catholic, enter your Catholic parish information: Catholic applicants to Notre Dame can enter their parish’s name and location here.


For the Academics section, you’ll answer the following question:





  • Which College or School at Notre Dame interests you?: Select which one of the five undergraduate programs at Notre Dame you intend to go into. This selection is nonbinding. However, as we mentioned above, space is especially limited in the Mendoza College of Business, so if you’re interested in the undergraduate business program, note it here to potentially be “preapproved.”


For the Activities section, you’ll answer the following question:




  • What activities at the University of Notre Dame interest you? List in order of preference.: Select the activity in which you’re most interested from the drop-down list. Use the Add Another link to add another activity, and use the arrow buttons that will appear to order your list. The general activity categories you’ll have to choose from are Academic Clubs, Athletic Clubs, Campus Ministry, Community Service, Cultural Clubs, Debate/Mock Trial, Language Clubs, Marching Band, Performing Arts Clubs, Research, Student Government, Student Newspaper, Study Abroad, and Yearbook.


For the Contacts section, you’ll answer the following question:




  • Have you previously applied to the University of Notre Dame?: Select yes or no. If you select yes, you’ll be prompted to provide the month and year you previously applied to Notre Dame.
  • How have you learned about the University of Notre Dame? List in order of influence.: Select one way that you learned about Notre Dame—for example, though a parent—from the drop-down menu. Use the Add Another option to add more ways you’ve learned about Notre Dame, and use the arrow buttons that will appear to order your list. Answering this question will help Notre Dame determine which of its outreach efforts work best.
  • If you wish to be contacted via mobile phone, please provide your phone number. Contact methods may include text messages.: If you’d like to receive these communications and you’re comfortable providing your phone number to Notre Dame, you can enter your phone number here.


For the Family section, you’ll answer the following questions:




  • Are any siblings also applying for undergraduate admission to the University of Notre Dame this year?: Select yes if you have one or more siblings who are applying to Notre Dame this year; otherwise, select no. If you select yes, you’ll be prompted to provide their names and relationships to you.
  • Have any relatives ever attended the University of Notre Dame?: Select yes if you have any relatives who have attended Notre Dame; otherwise, select no. If you answer yes for this question, you’ll be prompted to enter additional information. Keep in mind that Notre Dame particularly values relationships with families; about 22% of Notre Dame students have at least one parent who went to Notre Dame, and about 16% of students have a sibling who is attending or graduated from Notre Dame.
  • Have any relatives ever worked for the University of Notre Dame?: Select yes if you have any relatives who have been employed by Notre Dame; otherwise, select no. If you answer yes, you will be prompted to enter additional information.


Finally, for the Acknowledgements section, you’ll respond to the following prompts:




  • Disciplinary History: I hereby certify that I have read and understand that if I answered NO to either Disciplinary History question on the Common Application, and my status with respect to either question should change while my application for admission is pending, or after I have been admitted but before I begin my first semester at Notre Dame, I must promptly provide the Admissions Office with all relevant information or documentation
  • Duty to Report: I hereby certify that I understand that the University of Notre Dame is required by law to report known or suspected child abuse or neglect. I also understand that if I choose to reveal any instances of abuse or neglect in my application, the University may be required by law to report such abuse or neglect to the appropriate authorities.


Read the statements carefully before you reply. All applicants will need to check the box in front of “I agree” for both statements in order to move on with their applications.


In addition to these short-answer questions, Notre Dame also requires applicants to write two school-specific essays. You can access the prompts for these essays in the left-hand column under the heading Writing Supplement. All applicants must complete the first essay question, but applicants need only choose two of the other four prompts. The prompts are as follows:







“Notre Dame is an adventure that will develop more than just your intellect. Blessed Basil Moreau, founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, believed that to provide a true education “the mind will not be cultivated at the expense of the heart.” What excites you about attending Notre Dame? (required response, 150-200 words)


Please select two of the following four prompts and provide a response of approximately 150 words (not to exceed 200 words) to each.

  • Home is where your story begins. Tell us about your home and how it has influenced your story.
  • Think about when you first meet people. What is a common first impression they might have of you? Is it a perception you want to change or what else do you want them to know about you?
  • The late Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s president from 1953 to 1987, served as a trusted adviser to U.S. presidents and popes. A champion for human rights, Fr. Hesburgh was one of the architects of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Reflect on the current state of civil rights, the progress that has been made, or the problems still being faced today.
  • This is your chance to take a risk.”


Take a look at our CollegeVine blog post How to Write the Notre Dame Application Essays 2016-2017 for a detailed breakdown of these essay prompts and some guidance on how to go about answering them.


Coalition Application


The Coalition Application is an application system created by the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, an organization whose aim is to improve the college application process. If you haven’t heard of this application option before, that’s because it’s brand new; the Coalition App will be accepted for the first time during the 2016-2017 application season. Notre Dame will be one of 52 schools accepting this application in its debut year.


Much like the Common App system, the Coalition App system allows you to fill out your basic application information only once to send to multiple Coalition member schools, each of whom can add school-specific supplemental questions as well. The Coalition App also offers its own set of basic essay prompts. For advice on responding to these prompts, take a look at the CollegeVine blog post on How to Write the Coalition Application Essays 2016-17.


Where the Coalition App differs from the Common App is not so much in what questions it asks, but how it asks those questions. If you’re interested in Notre Dame, it’s worth taking a look at the Coalition App to see whether its approach to collecting information suits you. In the end, since Notre Dame doesn’t prefer either application format, it’s a matter of personal taste and which format you think will represent you best.


Like the Common App, the Coalition App requires you to create an online account, fill out your basic application information, and select Notre Dame as one of your schools. To complete your Notre Dame application you’ll need to answer the same school-specific essay questions that you would encounter on the Common App, so you can consult our CollegeVine blog post breaking down the various prompts as they appear on the Common App.


One thing that prospective Coalition App applicants to Notre Dame should keep in mind is that unlike some schools, Notre Dame does not make use of the “Locker” function offered by the Coalition App system. Briefly, the Locker is an electronic vault within the Coalition App system where students can store portfolio materials and share these materials with others. Applicants who would like to provide supplementary or portfolio materials to Notre Dame should do so through the official process using SlideRoom.


Visiting Notre Dame


Notre Dame does not offer interviews as part of its application process. Instead, its essay questions are designed to allow the university to get to know you better on a personal level. Applicants and their families are encouraged to contact the admissions office if they have any questions about the application process or other facets of life at Notre Dame.


However, prospective students are more than welcome to visit the campus in order to get to know Notre Dame better themselves. In addition to information sessions and tours, visiting applicants can be paired with an undergraduate student “day host” who can show them what a typical day at Notre Dame is like. You can even arrange for a visit that includes attending a Notre Dame varsity football home game.


If you’re planning to visit Notre Dame, you can register and schedule your visit here to ensure that you’ll be able to attend the activities that are important to you. The university admissions office states that due to the high volume and geographic diversity of applications to Notre Dame, your campus visit will not be taken into consideration when your admission decision is made.


Notre Dame also offers “Information Nights” in cities throughout the United States during the fall application season. You can find a scheduled event near you and register to attend on the Notre Dame admissions website.


Additional Notre Dame Application Requirements


Along with the Common App or Coalition App with Notre Dame-specific questions and essays, applicants to Notre Dame must submit the following:



Hearing Back from Notre Dame


If you apply REA to Notre Dame, you can expect to receive your admissions decision in mid-December. Since the REA program is nonbinding, if you’re accepted at this time, you will have until May 1st to decide whether or not you’ll be attending Notre Dame. (Of course, you can respond earlier if you want to.)


If you’re rejected in the REA round, unfortunately, you’ll need to move on, and you may not reapply during the RD timeline of the same admissions cycle. If you’re deferred, however, your application will be reconsidered with the RD applicants. We’ll address this in greater depth below.


RD applicants, along with deferred REA applicants, can expect to hear back about their admissions decisions in early April. Like accepted REA applicants, these applicants will have until May 1st to make their decisions and respond to Notre Dame.


While many applicants are denied admission in April, some are placed on the university’s waitlist to be reconsidered if additional spots open up. Again, we’ll go over this in greater detail below.


All applicants who are accepted to Notre Dame will need to submit a $500 deposit by the May 1st deadline to reserve their places in the matriculating class.


Deferrals and the Waitlist at Notre Dame


If you’re deferred in Notre Dame’s REA round, you’re not alone; last year, Notre Dame deferred 818 of the 5,321 students who applied early. You and your fellow deferred applicants will have your applications reconsidered in the spring along with the rest of the RD application pool, and you’ll have another shot at being admitted.


While you’ll still need to submit applications to a full slate of other colleges, you can also put some work into bolstering your application to Notre Dame before it’s reconsidered. You’re welcome to write to the admissions office to remind them of your interest in Notre Dame, and it’s suggested that you update the office about any new factors that might improve your application, such as a rise in your GPA, a higher standardized test score, or a new award or honor you’ve achieved.


Along with the things you should do if deferred are some things you shouldn’t do. Notre Dame in particular prefers that you do not submit any additional letters of recommendation besides the counselor evaluation and one teacher evaluation you’ve already submitted. Also, be polite and patient when trying to get in touch with your admissions officer—this is a very busy time of year for them, especially given the large size of Notre Dame’s applicant pool.


After the RD decisions are released in early April, some students may find themselves placed on the waitlist. If you’re in this situation, you can decide whether or not to remain on the waitlist, and if you do remain on the waitlist, you may be considered for admission with the matriculating class if additional spots open up after the May 1st response deadline. Notre Dame aims to complete its waitlist admission process in mid to late May, but occasionally it can take until the end of June.


If you’re offered a place on the waitlist and decide to take it, the first thing you need to do is inform Notre Dame of this decision online, according to the instructions you’ll be given. You can also write to the admissions officer assigned to your region and let them know about any new, positive additions to your admissions profile.


However, you’ll also need to be realistic about your chances. For the class of 2020, Notre Dame waitlisted 1,602 applicants, 869 of whom elected to remain on the waitlist, and zero were eventually accepted. In a more typical year, Notre Dame might admit 50-100 waitlisted applicants, but that’s still a waitlist acceptance rate of no more than 6.2%. You can hold out hope for the waitlist, but you’ll also need to go forward with plans to attend another college.


Does Notre Dame sound like the place for you? Check out the university’s website for more information on the various schools and departments, life in South Bend on and off campus, and how to make use of the many opportunities that Notre Dame will offer you.


Managing your college application workload can be stressful, but the rewards of finding a college that’s a great fit for you will shape your life to come. If you need a little help, the admissions advisors at CollegeVine are glad to be of service, whether in helping you compose brilliant essays or assisting you in making your final college decision. Fill out the form below for a free initial consultation with one of our experts.


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Monikah Schuschu
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Monikah Schuschu is an alumna of Brown University and Harvard University. As a graduate student, she took a job at the Harvard College Office of Financial Aid and Admissions, and discovered the satisfaction of helping students and parents with the often-baffling college admissions process. She also enjoys fiber art, murder mysteries, and amateur entomology.